Four Sea­sons Wrap-Up

Mazda’s first CX-5 wowed us with its style and driv­abil­ity. Did the sec­ond­gen model re­peat the feat?

Automobile - - Contents - By Todd Lassa

2017 Mazda CX-5 Grand Tour­ing

DE­SPITE ALL THE wist­ful rem­i­nisc­ing about the demise of the Great Amer­i­can Sta­tion Wagon by en­thu­si­asts too young to re­call that ve­hi­cle’s mid­cen­tury hey­day, truth be told, most of those wag­ons weren’t re­ally all that spe­cial.

The av­er­age kids of the era were be­ing shut­tled about in quo­tid­ian land barges like the Ford Coun­try Squire and Chrysler Town & Coun­try. Few would have had any in­ter­ac­tion with big-block-pow­ered rar­i­ties like the Mer­cury Colony Park or Chevro­let Kingswood Es­tate, let alone an Oldsmo­bile Vista Cruiser with a stonk­ing Rocket V-8 and slick glass roof, the Hurst four-on-the-floor jut­ting out in front of the bench seat.

Imag­ine now for a mo­ment how to­day’s sport util­ity ve­hi­cles will be re­mem­bered some half-cen­tury hence. Ford Ex­plor­ers and Jeep Grand Chero­kees will be thought of as the Coun­try Squires and T&Cs of the day, but thanks to the wealth of fire-breath­ing M- and AMG-badged mon­sters, 707-horse Track­hawks, and the like, the modern equiv­a­lent of the mus­cle-car­era su­per­wagon won’t be so rare. This leaves fun and en­gag­ing out­liers like the Mazda CX-5, which lines up well with the Vista Cruiser.

Yes, we know, their pow­er­trains are wildly dif­fer­ent, but stay with us here. The new CX-5 has been styled to help it stand out in a ver­i­ta­ble sea of look-alike crossovers, much like the Olds wagon did. And it has de­cent road man­ners and ride qual­ity with­out try­ing to be a tall, five-seat MX-5 Mi­ata, just as the Vista Cruiser wasn’t try­ing to be a fam­ily-size 4-4-2.

We ac­tu­ally had the past in mind when we chose to add a 2017 Mazda CX-5 Grand Tour­ing to our Four Sea­sons fleet, though we weren’t think­ing as much

of clas­sic wag­ons as we were of the 2013 CX-5 we pre­vi­ously had in for a long-term eval­u­a­tion. That first-gen CX-5 wowed us with how en­joy­able it was to drive for a mid­size crossover, and it never gave us a bit of trou­ble (though it spelled plenty for an un­for­tu­nate deer that it struck headon). We wanted to see if the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion CX-5 could re­peat the feat.

One feat the mid­size Mazda crossover has been pulling off al­most sin­gle­hand­edly is lev­i­tat­ing the for­tunes of the small, in­de­pen­dent Ja­pa­nese au­tomaker. At one point dur­ing 2018, the CX-5 out­sold Volk­swa­gen’s At­las, Tiguan, and Touareg com­bined. We don’t need to re­mind you that Mazda’s main­stream SUV sales help en­sure a fu­ture for cars like the MX-5 Mi­ata.

And although we adore the Mi­ata, we’ve taken is­sue with it—and the CX-5—in the mo­ti­va­tion de­part­ment. The 2.5-liter nat­u­rally as­pi­rated in­line-four with 187 horse­power and 185 lb-ft of torque un­der the hood of the CX-5 sounds good on pa­per and likely of­fers more than ad­e­quate power for most of its in­tended cus­tomers. But we’re not most buy­ers. We wanted more go.

“Mazda is out­per­form­ing its com­peti­tors on ev­ery front when it comes to look and feel at a given price point,” se­nior ed­i­tor Nel­son Ire­son says. “The only thing that’s not lead­ing the game is pow­er­train tech, and that’s pretty ob­vi­ous once you get be­hind the wheel.

“It’s not that it lacks power so much as it lacks low-end torque, re­quir­ing a good thrash­ing to make the hus­tle of a quick merger or short on-ramp,” Ire­son con­tin­ues. “That in turn means en­gine noise and vi­bra­tion, which spoils the pol­ished, con­trolled, sorted vibe found in ev­ery other as­pect of the CX-5.”

Tak­ing 8.6 sec­onds to 60 mph, the CX-5 gets up to speed ac­cept­ably, but as Ire­son and oth­ers on staff found out, it lacks some gid­dyup in sit­u­a­tions where you could use more of it.

“My big­gest com­plaint is that the car’s dy­namic pro­fi­ciency high­lights its lack of power, es­pe­cially for pass­ing on the free­way,” as­so­ciate ed­i­tor Billy Re­hbock says.

Some ed­i­tors yearned for the 250-hp 2.5-liter turbo-four from the CX-9, which was ru­mored for the 2019 CX-5. By last fall, Mazda was ad­ver­tis­ing the long-awaited 2.2-liter Skyactiv-D tur­bod­iesel I-4 in the 2019 CX-5, though at press time, it was not giv­ing out any de­tails about the en­gine. In Europe, the Skyactiv-D is rated 173 horse­power and 310 lb-ft of torque, but when Mazda nearly added that diesel to the 2018 CX-5, the EPA posted an unim­pres­sive 27/30 mpg city/high­way with all-wheel drive, and its de­but was de­layed again.

Dur­ing our time with the CX-5, we recorded an av­er­age of 24.8 mpg, which lim­boed un­der the EPA’s 26 mpg com­bined fig­ure. It’s not all that sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing how much we nor­mally keep the ham­mer down around town—all in the name of eval­u­a­tion, mind you.

“Could it use more power?” ed­i­tor-in-chief Mike Floyd asks. “Of course, but then you start to sac­ri­fice miles per gal­lon, and that’s a bad idea from a sell­ing point per­spec­tive.”

Feel­ings through­out the staff were ba­si­cally re­versed when the sub­ject turned to the CX-5’s dy­namic chops. Some thought the 2017 was a bit softer than the first-gen model given its big­ger di­men­sions and tun­ing that leans more to­ward the com­fort end of the spec­trum. How­ever, the new CX-5 was lauded for its pre­cise steer­ing, which of­fers more feed­back than most of its seg­ment com­peti­tors, and for its over­all poise on all man­ner of pave­ment.

Ire­son sums up our thoughts well: “Ride qual­ity is a care­ful bal­ance of snappy han­dling and bumpy-road com­fort.

The steer­ing is the crossover equiv­a­lent of ex­tremely sporty, which is to say, not like you’d find in a sports car but much closer to that ideal than the usual pile of mashed pota­toes served to crossover driv­ers.”

The sen­ti­ment was much the same when the topic turned to the CX-5’s ex­te­rior style. Our test ve­hi­cle fea­tured a killer Soul Red Metal­lic sheen and at­trac­tive 19-inch rims. Praise was nearly uni­ver­sal for the Mazda’s sheet­metal, a de­sign that takes some chances but gen­er­ally works in­stead of stick­ing out for the wrong rea­sons. It’s one of the key dif­fer­en­tia­tors between the CX-5 and the rest of the mid­size crossover crowd.

“Mazda con­tin­ues to be at the fore­front of de­sign in the seg­ment, and the new evo­lu­tion of this de­sign lan­guage is even cleaner,” as­so­ciate ed­i­tor Con­ner Golden says. “The CX-5 also looks a fair bit more ex­pen­sive than it re­ally is.”

That phi­los­o­phy of pre­mium feel at an af­ford­able price point ex­tends to the in­te­rior as well. Ma­te­ri­als had a near lux­ury look to them yet weren’t so pre­cious as to cause worry about the ef­fects of the sort of fam­ily travel for which this two-row SUV is in­tended. Given that the com­fort­able seat­ing was swathed in a bright “parch­ment” white, keep­ing it clean was a bit of an is­sue, but thanks to a proper de­tail­ing it looked pretty much as good as new when we turned the ve­hi­cle in.

It wasn’t all roses when the in­side was men­tioned. The fa­mil­iar Mazda fam­ily of con­trols, in­clud­ing the rotary cen­ter dial that scrolls through au­dio, nav­i­ga­tion, and other func­tions, re­ceived mixed re­views. “There are some wonky things about the rotary dial setup,” Floyd says. “But it works. The [7.0-inch] screen is a bit small given the com­pet­i­tive set.”

At least one ed­i­tor was unim­pressed by the tiny sun­roof. But for just north of $34,000 all in, the Grand Tour­ing


model was praised for its gen­er­ous list of stan­dard equip­ment and im­pres­sive suite of safety tech. Floyd was “im­pressed with the full-stop adap­tive cruise con­trol, and the head-up dis­play also has a blind-spot warn­ing that’s pretty cool-look­ing.”

The L.A. staff mostly used the CX-5 as a daily com­muter, on week­end er­rand runs, and for the oc­ca­sional short trip, but it got a cross-coun­try work­out thanks to yours truly, who drove it north by north­east, through Reno, Ne­vada, and on to Jack­son Hole, Wyoming, be­fore head­ing back to the Mo­tor City.

Once there, the Mazda CX-5 of­ten had its back seat folded, with sheets, blan­kets, and doggy beds pro­tect­ing the in­te­rior from a sur­feit of col­lie hair. (There were fre­quent stops at pow­er­ful car wash vac­uum sta­tions.) My wife and I also used it to help re­lay an adopted dog to his new owner. Thanks to the CX-5 and Above and Beyond Trans­port, an English set­ter named Mur­phy had a com­fort­able ride from Detroit to Ma­rine City, Michi­gan, his last 50 miles of a jour­ney that be­gan in Goochland, Vir­ginia. We also used the ve­hi­cle for a cou­ple of 360-mile round trips to our “Up North” cabin with our three rough col­lies.

Dur­ing its 19,000-plus-mile stay in our care, the CX-5 proved ab­so­lutely trou­ble-free, with the only main­te­nance be­ing a few oil changes and switch­ing on and off a set of Bridge­stone Bl­iz­zak win­ter rub­ber that we sourced from our friends at Tire Rack.

Re­hbock nailed the team’s thoughts on our over­all ex­pe­ri­ence with the 2017 Mazda CX-5. “Per­haps no other af­ford­able crossover ful­fills our mag­a­zine’s mantra of ‘No Bor­ing Cars,’” he says. “The CX-5 was never a pun­ish­ment to drive. It boasts pre­cise steer­ing, well-tuned sus­pen­sion, and good throt­tle re­sponse. I liked Mazda’s easy-to-nav­i­gate in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. The white leather seats were com­fort­able, sup­port­ive, and stylish. The metal­lic red paint is one of the best col­ors on sale, and it’s a shame more cars don’t wear it.”

Chalk up at least one young en­thu­si­ast who will have fond mem­o­ries of this fam­ily wagon some four or five decades hence. AM

In a sea of look-alike com­pact SUVs, Mazda’s CX-5 stands out. And it works: Healthy sales of the brand’s most pop­u­larmodel will help fi­nance de­vel­op­ment of the Mi­ata.


AWD plus a set of Bridge­stone Bl­iz­zaks (right) made a win­ter’s drive from Jack­son Hole, Wyoming, (above) to Detroit a cake­walk. Up­per right: Lava Hot Springs, Idaho.Lower right: Django’s fur prompted many vis­its to car wash vac­u­ums.

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